Okay. Let’s Talk.
Let’s talk about how this once-yearly event gives us the opportunity to pour our hearts about our struggles with mental health. Let’s talk about the awareness that it brings. Let’s talk about this crisis.
Let’s talk openly and honestly about the process behind receiving help for a mental health illness in Canada (and North America), because if we had a better system, we wouldn’t need to talk about it at all.
From the age of thirteen I understood that my emotions were completely out of my control. When I was thirteen years old, I created a chart to label my emotions and they were ‘angry-high, angry-low, and sad-low’. Errr. What? I started drinking and using drugs at thirteen to cope with my out-of-control emotions.
Doctors, friends, and family all waived it off. “You’re just growing up,” I was told, “Puberty is like this!”
Puberty started to look like a fifteen year old addicted to cocaine to fill the void inside of myself, overdosing twice at that age. It looked like me at seventeen years old, living on the streets because I could use safely and freely. This is not normal, and so let’s talk about the high amount of our youth and teenagers who are addicted to drugs and living on the streets in the Okanagan. Let’s talk about the lack of resources and rehab facilities for these teenagers. Let’s talk about the mental health system.
After suicide attempts, overdoses, and multiple times quitting drugs and alcohol, I was twenty-four years old when I was finally able to get in to see a psychiatrist who believed that my suffering was much more than ‘hormones’ or ‘experimentation’. After a suicide attempt it took me four months to get into her office. It took eleven years, three psychologists, two psychiatrists, two therapists, and over ten counselors, for somebody to take me seriously. There are so many events that should have killed me, by accident or by my own hand. I am lucky. These children and youth who are on the streets, they may not be so lucky.
Let’s talk about the correlation between mental health and drug abuse, because we could be working towards solving our homeless population crisis which has been steadily rising over the past five years.
If you haven’t experienced the throes of drug addiction it’s hard to understand from a secondhand point of view, but let me tell you that every single one of those humans on the street are dealing with an internal suffering that they likely have tried to get help for at some point in their lives. They were told they had to be on a waiting list to receive help. They were told that they had to detox themselves before they were eligible for rehab. They were told that the detox waiting list was two months. They were told that short-term psychiatric assessment had a waiting list of one to four months, and that they had to wait for a phone call, despite having no phone. They were told that after all of this effort, they would be shuffled back onto the streets – or shuffled into a different city entirely. That our rehab centers, our emergency rooms, our doctors offices were all too full for them. When you’re trying to seek help and you’re being pushed away, or told to wait, it’s disheartening.
Instead of building rehab centers, we’re building wet houses. Instead of giving grants to medical students, to funding mental health research programs, to subsidizing our exorbitant student loans to those who are seeking careers in drug and alcohol counselling, we’re raising our costs of living. We pay homage to a five cent hashtag once a year because it’s the easy way out. You talked about it.
What’s wrong with the world? Is this possibly something that’s become environmental?
Mental health diagnoses are on the sharp rise, and it’s worldwide. Everybody has anxiety. Everyone’s depressed. We’re all medicated (well, the ones who make it into our doctors), hell, people are medicated for depression without being clinically depressed because it's easier than digging for a deeper answer, or a more in-depth diagnosis. Is the uprise of mental health due to the way that we have shaped the world? Did we … did we fuck up?
We’ve accidentally created a future that is not feasible and not sustainable for human life. Seriously. Our lives are entirely dominated by computers. We’re assaulted a barrage of hatred and fear through mainstream media on a daily basis on our televisions, on our screens on Facebook, on our tablets, computers, through word of mouth – everywhere. We’ve become addicted to bad news. Not only addicted but desensitized. We’re so used to seeing and hearing about the sad state of our world and current events that it doesn’t affect us consciously anymore – but it still does subconsciously. This is the interesting conundrum, and likely the latent cause of most cases of anxiety and depression.
What can you do?
Shift your mindset. One of my favorite practices is to look for ‘hidden messages’, hidden pieces of artwork. To look for the good in all things. Uplifting images and messaging where you wouldn’t expect to find them, but … this can be translated to people, too. And remember, the people who are suffering with mental illness … they are people.
I have a friend who is addicted to meth and heroin. He lives in a homeless shelter. He lives with a mental disorder, paranoia, delusions and relies on his drug use to get him through the days. To assuage his fears, and to make sense of his emotions. You’ve probably walked past him, or people just like him on the street. Despite being told that the detox beds are full, or he’ll have to wait, he makes the best of his days. He writes with a disorganized and creative ferocity, deep and philosophical works as a form of therapy. He gets high, and he waits for a bed to open up. Someday, he’ll get better. Myself, friends, and his family, have chosen to look for the good in him, and the others like him, instead of becoming desensitized to his plight.
Don’t desensitize yourself to the world around you.
Look for meaningful ways that you can contribute, instead of once a year using a hashtag. Look into local soup kitchens for ways that they can benefit. If you choose to donate, donate where your money counts. Look into underfunded rehab centers, into supplying student grants for people who want to enter into medical profession to help with addiction and mental health. Sit down and get to know somebody who is living on the street.
Yes, let’s talk about it. But let’s also talk to the people who are in dire need and struggling, because you will find that they all have their own stories. They all have a lot to say.
Let’s talk. And let’s listen.